Words by Sean Jansen
The day was supposed to start at 6.30am. We were to wake up, load the car, load the boys, boards, camera equipment and search for waves with the short window we had of 3-4ft surf with a 10 second period and offshore winds. Apparently, Uruguay has some of the most random weather. But for some reason, this day was to be a day that was foreseeable and predictable. Everyone was ready for it. Or at least they were last night.
When an Uruguayan tells you a time to meet, you meet at least a full hour after the designated time. Hell, even a couple to several hours after your designated time. You can get there at the time you both agreed, but you will end up waiting for an hour minimum before your companion bothers show up. And he will show up with Mate in hand, food, and a big smile acting like nothing is wrong.
We didn’t even get on the road until an hour later. Which is fine because the sun doesn’t really rise until about 8am in winter. But that doesn’t mean you’re off to look for waves. No. One of the guys has to stop at his mother's to pick up a wetsuit, one has to go to the bathroom because he forgot he had to go before we left, and one ran out of hot water for his Mate, therefore needing to stop to get that.
We started driving up the coast. Then had to get a ferry to go across a bay to reach an untouched part of the coastline. On the ferry, one of the boys pulled out what looked like a jar of caramel. However turned out to be a wonderful, sugary, paste known as Dulce de Leche. You put it on pancakes or bread. It does a better job than coffee to get you going bright and early in the morning. Finally we got off the ferry and onto a lonely stretch of coastline, where we were greeted with head high waves with offshore, spitting barrels.
To Uruguayans, the waves only get great once every 20 days in winter. At least this is what the local shaper was telling me. I guess I was one of the lucky foreigners to come here and score. So ultimately, when waves are head high and spitting, you drop all you got. Shiver and shake. Slap that wetsuit, hood, gloves and booties on. The first to do so was a guy named Segunda Vargas.
Spot guide: Uruguay
Not knowing what to expect from the best Uruguayan surfers, I watched through my viewfinder as Segunda stroked into the first perfect A-frame, only to be astonished at the fact that he completely avoided the barrel. Simply to gather all the speed he could to launch at the end section about 10 yards down the line. When he launched about 4ft into the air and landed, I was amazed, how'd he do that when the waves do not really get that good, but also, because he wasn’t even the best surfer out there. That title belongs to Sebastian Olarte. Who was the second guy to get into the water.
Sebastian’s first wave was executed perfectly. Dropped down, pulled in and got spit out of a perfect, brown barrel. His following waves were just as impressive, but included massive hacks and aerial manoeuvres that you usually see surfers from Brazil do. The other two surfers who entered the water shortly thereafter were Charly Arocena and Tanja (Juan) Fernandez.
Two goofy foots and two regular at a punchy beachbreak, somewhere in Uruguay, all to themselves. For the next couple of hours, all four of them continued to rip, with me aiming the viewfinder in and out of the water. As time wore on, word got out and every car stopped at our spot to get a taste of the four of them just shredding.
With the morning conditions beginning to deteriorate, and the forecast sabotaged, we loaded up and hit the road north to other spots.
Segunda and Charly had to go elsewhere for the afternoon surf and didn’t join Tanja and Sebastian. We ate our sandwiches at a fun looking little right pointbreak. I thought before I came to Uruguay that it was really only beachies, but this right was a cobblestone to sand bottom proper point break. Unfortunately, no one was sold on it. So we were forced to slowly head south to where one of the guys knew about a left that could be good with the switching tide and wind.
The drive there was a little extraordinary. It felt like we were going through somewhere in the countryside of Germany or eastern Europe. There were farms, people fraternising with each other drinking their Mate. Meat and cheese shops and wine for sale in every little mini-market. It looked old, but it was tidied and taken care of. The people are what sold me. They look European. They look it, dress it, eat it, and speak it. The Language is something that confused me most about Uruguayans.
The native language of Uruguay is Spanish. But what they speak there isn’t really that. As a foreigner whose second language is Spanish, it didn’t get me anywhere. The people at the stores would just look at me like I was the one speaking the different language. Then my friend would step in and say something sounding completely different and get me what I originally wanted. He would then turn and look at me and say that they use a lot of slang in their language and the Italian language influences a lot of their words. But as I was having this mild epiphany in the car looking at these European looking homes and people, we stumbled across the left.
It was this giant beach that stretched south for as long as the eye could see. Then, suddenly, there was an array of rocks coming up from the ground that looked prehistoric and a soft little left point with a meaty top section. Which looked like if you were to eat it there, be sliced up into thin sausages and thrown on a plate with cheese and crackers back at the village. But as I am admiring the knife-edge, prehistoric rocks, Sebastian and Tanja go running by me full sprint and into the water.
There was a cross on the beach and I was curious if it had anything to do with what was going through my head while looking at the rocks. But then Sebastian drops in and throws his tail to the sky right in front of the meat cleaver section and continues going down the line like he didn’t even notice the section was there. Tanja took off on the second wave and elegantly laid back on the meat cleaver section and continued to carve down the face.
Sebastian had an aggressive approach. He is the future for Uruguay and progression for the country. Tanja, on the other hand, has the style of Craig Anderson and flow of Rob Machado. I didn’t get to see his style at the beachbreak earlier in the day, but at the point, it really showed. Sebastian and Tanja were joined by a local grom from the area. As the kid was running out, I asked my friends who he was, and they said his name was Mattias Nobrega and that he was the top surfer in the under 16 division for South America. And when he got in the water and mixed it up with the boys, well, you could tell.
There was really only one section on the wave that allowed any kind of progression and that was the meat cleaver. After that, it was a soft sand bottom runner for about 60 yards and then it hit the little beach break on the inside and closed out. So after about 2 hours there, the boys got out, and we started our two hour drive back home.
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We made it back to town where we took showers and relaxed. The sun sets around 6.30pm in the evening, for me, that is usually when my stomach starts knocking and wants to be fed. But here in Uruguay, they don’t even consider eating dinner until about 10.30 or 11 at night. It killed me. I had to walk to a grocery store to get some snacks to last me for the next four hours while we wait for dinner. But the wait was well worth it.
We went over to Sebastian’s house where it is laid out just like I described that old European looking village on the drive. We had a barbecue Uruguayan style where it was cooked inside the house over a built in fireplace. We ate meat, liver, kidney, cheese and crackers, and of course, over a couple glasses of wine.
One day was all we needed. Sometimes a day is all it takes to score good waves and meet people that you will connect with for the rest of your life. And usually one day is all it takes to be able to think back on your trip, and put a smile on your face that will last a lifetime. One day in Uruguay with its top surfers, fun waves, and a barbecued evening with wine and conversation is something I won't forget anytime soon.